IBAC Partnership

It has been a great privilege for me to be a part of a partnership between Community Bible Church and IBAC over the last two years. IBAC is a mobile theological training organization that connects US churches with pastors and ministry leaders in Latin America for the purpose of providing seminary-like education.

Community Bible began investigating this opportunity back in 2016 after I met Jim Wilson, the Founder and Director of IBAC, while on a short-term mission trip to Costa Rica. Long story short, CBC members and missionaries Gordon & Debbie Crandell served alongside Jim and Melanie Wilson in San Jose as part of the same EFCA missions team, and I was introduced through the Crandells.

When I met Jim he told me about the purpose of IBAC, which involved mobilizing the US church – where seminary education is more readily available – to serve the Latin church – where quality seminary education is not readily accessible. Practically speaking, it means having churches like CBC send teachers who either have a seminary education or similar theological training to equip Latin pastors and ministry leaders who already have influence within their churches, for the sake of encouraging sound doctrine and gospel-centered church leadership in Central and South America. The program consists of 15 one-week-long intensive courses taught over the course of 5-8 years.

Community Bible Church formalized our relationship with IBAC in early 2018 and taught the first course in San Jose in June 2018. Since then, I have been part of teaching teams for courses in October 2018 and February 2019.

The pastors who attend come from at least 5 congregations in San Jose and are mostly bi-vocational. These are folks who are called to shepherd the flock of God, but who have to work another job to make ends meet. For that reason, our IBAC group meets from 4:30-9:00pm Monday thru Friday for each course, giving them time in the morning and afternoon to take care of their paying jobs before coming to study. We’ve seen many of the same people returning course after course, because they’ve enjoyed the training, plus we’ve added some new folks along the way. We started with about 30 people and in February we had 48 on our largest night.

Each night is divided into 50-minute sections. We have times of instruction, followed by Q&A, then we have dinner together, which allows for great times of personal connection, and then more instruction, followed once again by Q&A.

One lady that has been coming to the classes is named Mariela. She has been to all 3 courses and I don’t think she’s missed a single night of any course. She is always engaged, always asks good questions, and she has brought others along with her over time. In speaking with Mariela in February, she told me that she leads a women’s discipleship program in a church where there are 1,000 people. I stood there speechless as she told me how she had desired something like this for so long, but it had been unavailable to her until IBAC. This is a woman who loves the Lord, who already has influence over a large number of women, who is able to apply what she’s learned AND teach it to those with whom she has influence for immediate payoff. I believe that is the beauty of the IBAC model. Not only does it build the US church through study and preparation, but it builds the Latin church by equipping leaders who will immediately be able to invest in others in their churches.

And all of this is made possible because of your support at Community Bible Church. It is absolutely free for each person to attend these Bible institutes, thanks to your giving. We pay for the printed materials for each student, for translation, for dinner each night, for the venue that houses us, and even transportation.

Thank you for your support of this ministry and for your continued prayer support moving forward.

How can you pray for this ministry? Here are a few things that come to mind.

  • Pray for the team that is preparing now to teach in October. There is a lot of study and preparation involved in teaching these courses in an effective way.
  • Pray for the churches that we’re developing relationships with there in San Jose. Pray that the gospel would have its full effect on the hearts of the Costa Rican disciples who are in these churches. Pray that these churches would effectively & winsomely minister to their communities.
  • Pray for opportunities to strengthen our partnership with these Latin churches, even as our CBC summer mission team will be in Costa Rica this Summer (July 13-20).
  • Pray for Jim Wilson, who leads this organization, which now has locations in about 30 locations throughout Latin America. Jim does a lot of travel to get to these Bible institutes, so pray for his wife Melanie while he is away.
  • Pray that the Lord would continue growing the number of people who attend IBAC each course.

Pure Joy in the Hand

My son is 7 years old. He’s in the second grade. And he *thinks* he knows everything. No one can tell him anything because he already knows the answer. It’s amazing to me… and drives me crazy all at the same time.  However, I’m not that much different than him.  I remember when I was growing up, I always thought that I was older and wiser than the age I was at the time. It’s something that I most likely still to think today. Anyone else with me?

When I was 24 years old, my husband and I, moved to San Francisco, California. We were barely two years into our marriage when we put our “yes” on the table to re-pioneer an urban ministry in one of the last African-American neighborhoods of the city- Bayview-Hunters Point. You could see the old 49er Stadium from our back porch, which more than thrilled my “Niner Loving” husband. There were 16 known gangs in our neighborhood and a plethora of opportunities to share the love of Christ with those living around us. We were eager and ready. So we thought.

“Consider it pure joy, my brother, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.” James 1:2-3

We had no idea what lay before us. My husband loved the neighborhood.  He was out on the streets daily- praying, talking with people, telling them about Jesus.  I, on the other hand, began a silent battle within my heart.  I loved Jesus.  I loved missions.  I loved my husband. But I did not love living in a huge city with no real friends or community. I did not love the isolation or loneliness that crept into my heart. There were so many things not to love about that season and I began to have a lot of anxiety and panic attacks when I could no longer suppress the battle that was raging in my heart. I couldn’t hide the struggle any longer. 

Being two years into our marriage, it was almost more than we could bear.  Our ministry directors at the time were gracious to us and after several months of prayer, processing, and counseling, the decision was made for my husband and I take a step back from ministry. It was a huge blow to both of us. We had communicated to our family and friends and supporters that THIS was what we were led by God to do. We *thought* it was right.  How could the Lord call us here and then allow such an intense struggle only to pull us out of ministry? We were left broken, defeated, shamed, and embarrassed. 

I felt like my 7-year-old son. We set out *thinking* we knew the ins and outs of ministry and with Jesus, could handle that intense environment. Looking back now that eight years have passed, I see so many areas where the Lord has grown me and taught me and shown me His loving-kindness.

Since leaving San Francisco, the Lord has opened the opportunity for me to step back into full-time ministry working as the Missions Director here at Community Bible Church. Stepping back into ministry has been exciting and fun.  I’ve loved being able to use my gifts again for the sake of the Gospel and to advance the Kingdom. But I would be lying if I said that it didn’t come with many challenges. There have been many challenges that have stirred my anxiety back up in a very real and similar way as it was when I lived in San Francisco. There have been times when I have cried out to God to release me. I have questioned our decision for me to step back into ministry.  But every single time, the Lord has kept me right where I am.  He has not let me go or allowed me to run. I have had to face the challenges and insecurities and pressure. 

“Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”  James 1:4

This isn’t just my story. It’s all our story. Life is hard. We each have battles and struggles that we face daily. And through it all, the Lord wants to bring us to maturity so that we are not lacking anything.  He wants to grow and shape us into His image. He can’t always do that in easy times. It’s in the valley’s that we learn to lean in and trust Him fully. 

For many years, I didn’t understand why the Lord allowed me to “run” from San Francisco- why He allowed me to bow out of the hard and difficult season that was life there because I have found my time working at Community Bible to hold many similar parallels as to the season in San Francisco. But I see James 1:2-4 at work in my life… the trials that I faced in San Francisco and even those that I face today as the Missions Director are developing perseverance in my life. They are growing me to maturity in Christ. They are bringing me to a place where I am not lacking anything because everything that I need is in Christ. 

This is not something that I boast in of myself, but I boast about the work that Christ is doing in me. If you knew me intimately, you would know that I am a mess. It’s all Him. 

I don’t know what you may be going through, but I do pray today that you would consider it pure joy that whatever you are facing, whatever you are going through- may you know that the Lord is using that very thing to grow your faith and develop perseverance in your life. Don’t give up. Press into Him. Know that He doesn’t want you to lack anything. In Him, you have everything that you need for this life.  He is with you. His grace is there. He will see you through, just like He did for me in San Francisco and just like He is doing for me daily as the Missions Director at CBC. 

Consider it pure joy.

Community

Paul (not his real name) is a no-nonsense, somewhat cynical loner with piercing eyes and a stoic demeanor. He’s the kind of guy whose dream vacation would be hiking the Appalachian Trail all alone. His hobbies included collecting an absurd arsenal of firearms (for the coming zombie apocalypse) and building a home brewery for his favorite IPA craft beer.

One day I asked him if he’d like to grab lunch. He reluctantly said “yes”. I think I had to ask him half a dozen times before he set a date. I like to think my persistence wore him down. 

I let him choose where we would meet because he was a picky eater, someone who would be satisfied with the predictable choices on the kid’s menu in every American restaurant. We grabbed our sandwiches at a local deli and wrestled our way through a conversation about IPA’s (he was mostly educating me because I don’t drink beer and couldn’t understand why he finds it so fascinating or tasty), raising children and Jesus. I say we “wrestled” our way through the conversation because extracting words from Paul was an exhausting exercise, kind of like Jacob must have felt when he wrestled God and said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me” (Genesis 32:26). My internal resolve was saying, “I’m not going to let you go back to work until you bless me with a few substantial, meaningful words.”

As we walked to our cars I said, “I had a nice time, Paul. I enjoyed getting to know you better.” He said, “Yeah, it was better than I thought it would be.” I thought to myself, “Thanks… I think.” I then said, “Would you like to get together again sometime soon?” His reply made me thankful that my sense of worth didn’t depend on Paul. He replied, “Not really. I mean, this was okay, and I appreciate you taking the time to grab lunch. But I don’t really need community. I’ve got my wife and two friends (he was serious). I’m not really interested in having relationships with anyone else.”

I was simultaneously shocked by and in complete admiration of Paul’s candor. Most people would have simply lied to me. They would have told me they were willing to meet again, and then they would have manipulated their calendar in such a way that I would eventually stop trying to connect with them because they would be perpetually too busy to connect.

I’ve thought a lot about my friend’s words of over the years. Is it really true that he doesn’t “need community”? I know why he feels this way. He’s an introvert. People exhaust Paul. People are like energy sucking vampires who suck him dry. Turning inward is as much about survival as it is comfort.

Theologically-speaking, we all need community. It was God who said, “It is not good that the man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18). But Paul would say, “I’m not alone. I have my wife, my two friends, and Jesus.” Is that enough?

I find it interesting that when Jesus came into the world, he came to accomplish his mission and purpose in the context of community. He was God, and he had experienced the intimacy of community with the Godhead (Father, Son, Spirit) for all eternity. He knew true community in a way most of us have never experienced. Yet, even Jesus welcomed other people into his life. He journeyed to the cross in Jerusalem with twelve friends. That’s four times, the community my friend felt he needed.

There are at least two reasons I believe community is important. The first is that becoming a Christian means that you and I are a part of a new people – where I am theirs and they are mind. Ephesians 2 reminds us that God’s goal in the Gospel is that “he might create in himself [Jesus] one new man in place of the two, so making peace” (2:16). When we are born again in Christ, we aren’t just experiencing an individual transformation (i.e., becoming a new creation). We are also embracing a new corporate identity. We are welcomed into a new family. We are bound together by love, sharing life together under the authority and wise leadership of Jesus Christ, our “head” (Colossians 1:18).

The second reason community is important is because “community has a fundamental role in living according to the way of Jesus” (Kyle Strobel).  The truth of the Gospel is this: we cannot create true identity apart from Jesus. We don’t have sufficient power to create our truest self. In truth, we aren’t even fully human apart from faith in Jesus Christ. We have been made in the image of God to display God. But we cannot rightly display God apart from having our lives “hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3).

We need community (other Christians) to reveal to us how desperately we need Jesus. We always underestimate our need. We can only find ourselves in Jesus through weakness and vulnerability, and we need others to help us see how weak and vulnerable we really are, and how much we need Jesus. I think that’s why we fear community. We fear being exposed as weaklings. We fear vulnerability. And this is why we always seek out idolatrous ways to create self. We try to create identity in our work, our families, our accomplishments and accolades, our sexuality, our religious expressions, etc. We are blind to our own strategies for creating our own identity. We need others to help us see what we can’t see for ourselves.

Gospel community exposes our weaknesses, vulnerabilities and idols. When we let other Christians into our lives, and when others let us into their lives, we are often confronted with the truth about ourselves. This can be painful and embarrassing, but it is also necessary if we are to grow more into the image of Jesus. As James Houston once wrote, “Genuine humanity is never in isolation, but is always with others.”

Because God has existed in community for eternity within the Godhead (i.e., Trinity), “then to be with God, who is always with us, is to be in community” (Jamim Goggin). If I am to walk with Christ, I must walk with Christ with his people. That means something more than reading the Bible, listening to sermon podcasts, and showing up to Sunday worship gatherings on occasion. Walking with Christ with his people means opening up your life to others. It means being comfortable with how uncomfortable it is for people to lovingly pursue you when something doesn’t seem quite right. It means humbly receiving correction. It means having hard conversations to help each of us guard our hearts against sin and temptation.

Who are the Jesus-followers walking with you through life? The more Christians there are that “know” us, the more weak and vulnerable we will feel. But that weakness is where we experience the grace of God: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect In weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). We experience the power of God as we live in authentic community, a world where we are our truest selves because we are known and loved, not despite our weakness and vulnerability, but because of our weakness and vulnerability. I never gave up on Paul, even when he thought he didn’t need me. Let’s resolve not to give up on one another, even when what we see in one another is confusing and disheartening. We are not wired to embrace weakness and vulnerability, but if we want to experience Christ in unprecedented ways, that’s precisely what we must do. Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote that we “find the Creator by means of [one another].” What he meant was that we experience more of God as we share life together – even when it’s hard to do so. You will never experience God as intimately as he wants you to alone – or even with your three friends. We’re a family, and families are messy, frustrating, and exhausting. But that’s where God’s grace is found, and I want as much of his grace as he is willing to give. How about you?